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“First of all, just want to put out thoughts and prayers to the University of Virginia football team and that whole community there. When I found out yesterday, details started to come out and heartbreaking is the one word I would say to describe it. What a tragedy that is and I really feel for Tony Elliott and the staff, and everybody associated with that. That’s an extremely difficult situation for everybody to deal with, particularly on that campus but really everywhere. If you’re a football player and you saw that, it affects you. I’m sure our kids, when the news came out that it affected them in a way, and it just puts life into perspective. Life is so much more important than football or anything else we’re doing, especially for these young people. Just a really sad situation. We plan on putting a helmet sticker on our helmets to honor those guys and that program this week. We’ve got a player, Anthony Johnson, that was here that’s there now and he’s devastated. Just really feel for those guys.
I’ll get to the game, the Clemson game. Tough, hard-fought game. Proud of the way our players went out and played. Played extremely hard, gave their all, all the way to the very end. We certainly had chances and opportunities in that game to seize control of the game there in the second half. Our defense kept playing their butts off and getting the ball for us offensively. We didn’t do anything with it. We’re certainly trying our best and trying to fight for yards but just couldn’t get it down there. We didn’t make enough plays. Clemson’s got a good football team. Last week, everyone wanted to write them off after the Notre Dame game, but they’ve got a ton of talent and a great environment there at Clemson, with over 80,000 people there in the stadium being loud. Certainly, a home-field advantage for them and a great atmosphere. We didn’t make enough plays, bottom-line. We didn’t make enough plays and they did. We got to find ways to move the ball and score points.
I knew tackling was going to be a thing, we didn’t tackle great on their running backs. They run hard, got a lot of respect for their running backs, and (Will) Shipley in particular, just how tough he is. But I think for us, to get back here on Sunday and put that one to bed and move on to NC State. Another really good football team and an excellent defense. They’ve kind of been led by their defense this year. Ton of experience back. Probably the best linebacker combination in the country with their three linebackers (Drake Thomas, Payton Wilson, and Isaiah Moore). Extremely productive linebackers and they do everything from interceptions to sacks to tackles for loss. They’re running all over the field. Very impressed by their linebackers.
Offensively, they lost their quarterback (Devin Leary) and they’ve played a couple of other guys, but I think the one they settled on, MJ Morris, has come in and played well and he gives them a chance. He’s young, he’s a freshman, still learning how to play the game, but certainly gives them a chance. He can run and throw.
For us this week, it’s Senior Day, the last opportunity for these seniors to play in Cardinal Stadium. We want to send them out on a high note, something they’ll remember forever. Obviously, we’re guaranteed a winning season if we get this win - seven wins, that’s big. And we’ve got an opportunity to go out and win our last ACC game this year, so there’s a lot riding on the game. We want to finish the season strong, in particular against this team, NC State. I haven’t faced NC State here (at home) since I’ve been here. COVID kind of threw us off there, so this is the first time we’ve had them up here. We’re excited about this opportunity and we’re ready to go play. Guys are eager, they’re hungry to continue to go out there and practice. We’ll have a great practice this afternoon, so we’re looking forward to it.”
(On the senior class that will be honored on Saturday)
“It’s a good group. It’s kind of odd because I feel like there’s three different classes probably within this class. With COVID, you’ve got the guys that’ve been here, like Malik (Cunningham), that’s been here forever. Caleb Chandler and those guys have been here for a long, long time, Yasir (Abdullah) too. Really, I got a special place in my heart for those guys because they’ve been through so much in the period of time that they’ve been here, as much as any class has probably ever been through anything. They’ve been through coaching changes, they’ve been through the COVID situation for two years, getting another year (of eligibility), just a lot of stuff that’s crazy, that has never happened really. What they’ve meant to us, just as people too, we’ve been around them a long time now and we’re certainly going to miss those guys. You spend so much time with them here, not only during the season but in the offseason, and so we’re really going to miss those guys. Then the other guys too, that haven’t been here as long, but they’ve meant a lot to our program. The fight that they’ve shown for the time that they’ve been here, a lot of adversity they’ve been through, and to be able to come through that and fight through it and get on the other side of that, that’s what I’m most proud of with this group. That’s why we want to finish strong also. That’s why we want to win these last two games and come out with a really nice season with one of the more difficult schedules that we’ve had in Louisville football. For these guys to be able to be a part of that is something that they’ll remember forever. We’re certainly going to miss them, but again, I want them to ultimately have great memories when they leave Louisville, and part of that is to go out here and win these games because that’s what they’ll remember.”
(On the injury status of quarterback Malik Cunningham)
“Malik is day-to-day. He went out the last play before halftime and kind of landed on his shoulder, kind of dinged that whole area around there. I don’t know the specifics of the injury but really just kind of bruising around the shoulder. He’s going to be day-to-day, he’s been over here all day Sunday, Monday, and today just working and trying to get better, trying to get out there. As we go throughout the week, we’ll have a better idea of where he’s at, but today I’d list him as day-to-day.”
(On Cunningham’s injury to his non-throwing hand)
“Yeah, it’s a little limiting for him as far as there’s a little discomfort there, but he can certainly go out and play and not really affect how you’re going to play the game. He still ran around, still tried to make plays. I think, in the game, he was 10-13 throwing against a really good defense. Clemson is one of the top defenses in the country, and their defensive line and linebackers are very talented. For him to go out there and play the way he did, I thought he played well. It’s just a really good defense. Now, with the right shoulder, which is his throwing arm, he’s going to have to get that healthy so he can throw. Again, we’ll see how quickly that can heal up and if he’s available or not for Saturday.”
(On if Cunningham has been smarter with not taking hits after returning from previous injuries this season)
“Yeah, I think he has tried to be a lot smarter when he is running the football. You kind of notice that in the last several games where he gets toward the sideline and gets out of bounds to not take an unnecessary hit. At the same time, he’s a competitor, he likes to get those extra yards. He’s a tough guy. Obviously, he’s played a lot of football over the last five years and taken a lot of hits and a lot of shots. Some of the shots he takes, a lot of times we don’t even notice because he just threw the ball and we’re all looking at the ball and he’s laying on the ground because he just took another hit, and for him to get back up and keep playing. But I do think the last several weeks he has been a lot smarter running, getting down when he needs to get down and get out of bounds and not taking those unnecessary hits. He is a big threat, even when he doesn’t run because they have to account for it. They have to set their defense up to know ‘Hey, Cunningham can take the ball down the back side, and he can be gone, so we better have a guy back here.’ So there is value even when he doesn’t run, just the threat of the run. I think teams certainly have to guard against that. But we want him to be smart and not take unnecessary hits, get down when he needs to get down and get out of bounds. Let’s let these other guys take the shots.”
(On the improvement of backup quarterback Brock Domann since he got to campus)
“I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, he’s got a lot of confidence. He’s got a lot of confidence in his ability. When he goes out and he makes plays, it just increases that. I thought he did a lot of really nice things the other night against Clemson. Again, they are a really good defense and he had guys breathing down his neck there and he’s still standing in there making those throws. I think that gives him the confidence to know when he has a plan of knowing how to attack this defense with this particular play then he’s really, really good. That’s one of the things he told me after the game, he said he feels really good when he understands the play and he has a good plan for it. So, for us as coaches, we have to put together a plan for him that he feels really good about and confident to make those plays. The more he plays, the better he feels. You mentioned that he’s played a lot over the last several games and gone out and made a lot of great plays for us. He’s becoming more and more confident with the offense having gone through the spring, the summer, and then as he’s gone out and played some games. We have confidence in him, and I think the receivers do too. They know if they get open, he’s going to throw them the ball where they have a great chance to make the play. I think we saw that in the second half last week, (Tyler Hudson) made some great catches on the outside, but Brock gave him a chance. He threw it in a place where he had the opportunity to catch it. That’s what we want from our quarterback position, give them a chance to make plays. A guy like (Hudson) is going to come down with it and make those plays. Another great example is what he did in the game when we threw a touchdown to (Hudson), and they knock that off the books. He hits Braden (Smith) wide open and it kind of gets lost in the lights and he didn’t catch it. He still stood in there and threw a touchdown pass right after that. I’m really pleased with the way he’s been playing. We have to do a great job as coaches to find ways for him to be able to move the ball if he is going to be playing.”
(On if the coaches will focus on going back to rotating and keeping the offensive line after playing the same five guys during the game against Clemson)
“You mentioned the (offensive line) but that happened at a lot of positions. We didn’t play as many guys in this game, and I think Clemson had a lot to do with that. They’re really talented, they’re a really talented team. The guys that were out there, they’re in the flow of it and getting a feel for it. You put a guy in there that maybe hasn’t been in the game with their size and speed, you don’t want to have a negative play. We’re trying to fight for every play. Every play matters and we’re trying to do the best we possibly can to make some plays. We don’t like to do that so hopefully this week we’ll be able to get some more rotations. I’m not saying a lot of positions but get more rotations and get more guys in because you do get worn down. I felt we were a little tired there in the fourth quarter and that’s us trying to keep our guys in there to try to get a win. I think we’d like to be able to rotate more hopefully this week. As coaches sometimes you get locked in on that, like I can’t take my guy out. But we have to just do it, even its for just six, seven, or eight plays, let’s get some rotation.”
(On the injury status of offensive lineman Luke Kandra)
“Yeah, Luke is going to practice today and hopefully he will be back this week. He’s going to go through practice at a limited basis but we’re putting him in to go with the offense. I think he’s really, really close and hopefully he’ll be able to play this week.”
(On the improvement of linebacker Yasir Abdullah this season and where he projects as a professional player)
“Number one, he’s a great human being. I love Yasir. He comes to work every day, he’s an extremely hardworking guy. That’s why he has continued to get better and better each and every year, because of that. Now, I always tell freshmen when they get here that where you are right now is not where you want to be. You’ve got to keep getting better every single day and he’s done that. I remember when he first got here, he couldn’t play more than 12 snaps. He would go from full tank to empty really, really quickly and we just had to get him out. He was a special teams guy early on and just worked his way into what he is now, a really relentless player in pass rushing but also just running plays down from behind. He’s a very smart player. You don’t ever have to worry about Yasir. He’s going to be where he’s supposed to be and do what he’s supposed to do. He’s a big-time playmaker. I think he’s got a bright future in the NFL. There’s going to be spots for him because he’s going to be a (special) teams guy for wherever he’s at. He’s probably going to be a guy who you could put in for third down for pass rushing but he also can drop into coverage. I think he’s got a great opportunity to be able to have a big impact at the next level. But let’s finish it out first with the next couple games.”
(On if Cunningham will practice this week)
“If he is healthy enough to practice, he’ll go out and practice. For him, he wants to play and he wants to finish it out. Again, we’ll take it day-by-day to see where he’s at. If he’s healthy enough to play, then he’ll play. If he’s not, then Brock (Domann) will go play. That’s the way we’ve done it always and we’ll continue to do it that way and we’ll see where he’s at. I know he wants to play, and he wants to be out there with his teammates.”